Rioters wreak havoc

2019-01-14 17:25
The burnt out shell of a truck on the N3 northbound near Merrivale after protests on Thursday evening.

The burnt out shell of a truck on the N3 northbound near Merrivale after protests on Thursday evening. (Ian Carbutt)

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Rioters at Howick spent Thursday night blockading main roads, setting debris on fire, shooting at police, stoning passing vehicles and torching two trucks.

The chaos started at around 5 pm when people blockaded the R617, the Boston/Underberg Road, following the arrest of nine community members earlier that afternoon.

An ongoing land dispute in Howick near the Midmar Dam is said to be the root cause of the protest.

Howick community members from an informal settlement in the area identified land that had been vacant for 30 years near the Midmar Dam and wanted to buy it to build more houses.

The owner of the land had allegedly made an agreement to purchase with a man, however, the community said they also wanted an opportunity to buy it and wanted uMngeni Municipality to help with payment.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said the protests started after the community invaded “a private property at Howick”.

Nine people aged between 24 and 55 were arrested.

Gwala said after the arrests, members of the community embarked on a protest and blockaded the R617 Road and the N3 north bound lane with burning tyres and logs.

“They fired shots at the police and also set alight a truck on the N3. They also threw stones at police and motorists.”

Emergency workers said the area was a no-go zone. Photographs of scores of cars stuck in traffic, burning tyres and a burning truck were sent to multiple WhatsApp community groups. Fires could be seen raging in the background.

People living near the R617 and the N3 where the protest took place claimed to be able to hear explosions and the commotion from their homes.

Gwala said  rubber bullets were used to disperse “the unruly crowd”.

“There were reports of vehicles being damaged but no one has come forward to open a case. A case of public violence was opened for investigation at Howick SAPS,” said Gwala.

When Weekend Witness went to the area where the protesters had been on Thursday, large logs and burnt debris lay at the roadside. One of the trucks that was set alight on the N3 northbound, was completely gutted.

Joey’s Towing said they had been working on removing the burnt out tanker that had been carrying oil to Sasol since early on Friday morning.

A man who was at the protests on Thursday evening but asked not to be named said he had witnessed all the mayhem.

“They tried to set the fire truck alight after they set the tanker on fire and they also tried to burn the fuel line nearby. They were going crazy,” said the man.

“It eventually calmed down at midnight and police were definitely under pressure but were trying to handle it as best as they could,” he said.

Gwala said the people who were arrested were due to appear in the Howick Magistrate’s Court on Friday, however, it is unclear what the outcome of the appearance was.

Things had calmed down by Friday, but police were still monitoring the situation carefully.

uMngeni municipal spokesperson Thando Mgaga said on Friday that “any act of vandalism or destruction of property for any reason is strongly condemned by the municipality”.

“Moreover the municipality was never approached to purchase the land in question. The land is privately owned, therefore any activities that take place on privately owned land, whether legally or illegally must be dealt with and attended to by the land owner.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  protest

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